By Sr Isabel Smyth
The holiday period has come to Scotland and with it some sunshine which is a welcome change. Everything and everyone looks so much brighter, happier and friendlier. Holidays are important in our lives. Originally they would have been associated with holy days – festivals which would have given a break from work to allow families and communities to come together to celebrate and remember significant moments in their community’s life. This was a way of reconnecting, of enjoying a change of routine and often diet, of taking time for fun and laughter away from the drudgery of normal living.
Today holidays are often an opportunity to visit new places and meet new friends. But they have not lost their sacred significance as moments to renew and refresh our spirit as well as our bodies. Today life is so hectic that people find it difficult to switch off even on holiday or their holidays themselves become a frantic pursuit of new experiences and new challenges. The Jewish community can teach us something about switching off. Every week Jews observe the Sabbath, a day on which they rest from normal work to spend time with their family and, for those who are religious, to give time to prayer and study of the scriptures. They do this in imitation of God who, according to the scriptures, rested on the seventh day of creation and commanded His people to do likewise.
Resting for the Jewish community, and for all those who follow the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is a divine act, an act of worship, an act of renewal and celebration. This celebration of Sabbath tells me that often there is a deeply human truth hidden in what seems to be a religious belief or ritual. We all need Sabbath times, holidays and holy days to renew and refresh our spirit, to savour and enjoy life. Without these our work will be ineffective and we will be in danger of suffering burn-out or some other illness. But we also need Sabbath moments—moments when we can be quiet, still the mind and return to the space within us to restore our spirit and get in touch with our inner wisdom. And Buddhism offers a practice for doing just this. Mindfulness, focusing on the present moment is now used by the NHS to help people who are depressed or have a mental illness.
It is something we could all do with practising.